In 1979 a group of Westport teachers and administrators saw the need for a quality daycare center. They envisioned plenty of parent participation — an “extended family” offering enrichment and support to infants and toddlers.
The Children’s Community Daycare Center opened with 5 kids and 2 teachers, in a room at Green’s Farms Elementary School.
The next year it moved to the recently vacated Hillspoint Elementary. Three decades later (“Daycare” having morphed into “Development”) it’s still there — with 63 youngsters, 16 teachers, and 5 programs.
Including Eileen Ward.
Hired as a head teacher in 1981, she was named director 5 years later. Originally younger — now older — than the parents who play an important role in the cooperative, she’s loved by everyone at CCDC: tots, moms and dads, and the staff.
In 2009 Eileen received a United Way award. It said: “A conversation about what is needed to help kids succeed is not complete without Eileen’s input.”
This month, CCDC’s annal fundraiser celebrated her 30th anniversary. Over 100 parents, teachers and alumni honored Eileen’s work in the tight-knit school community — and at the state and regional levels.
Eileen prefers to talk not about herself, but about CCDC’s spirit.
“The founders knew what was important at all levels,” she says. “They had their hearts and minds in the right place.”
From the beginning, Eileen notes, the emphasis was on the social and emotional components of learning; on involvement, collaborative decision-making, and “respectful relationships on behalf of children.”
That extends to the staff. “We all continue to grow professionally,” she says. “There’s always room for personal education.”
CCDC kids don’t go home with “worksheets or perfectly put-together pumpkins,” she says. Nor do parents “just drop off their kids.”
Like most 30-somethings, CCDC is very much in touch with technology. Each classroom has a web page. Every day parents read about activities done, songs sung and books read that day.
As a result, “when they pick their kids up, they really feel connected. They’ve already got some conversation starters.”
The 4’s room has its own email address. Parents on business trips send photos and video clips — and even Skype, on a donated smartboard.
The whole class gathers round. “Kids ask everything from ‘What floor are you on?’ to ‘What’s that in the background?'”
A recent innovation — the “Wonderful World” language program — helps older kids chat a bit in Spanish.
But some things never change. An early graduate recently returned for a visit. “He said, ‘It feels exactly the same,'” Eileen reports proudly. “We’ve expanded and grown, but the environment hasn’t changed.”
As it always has, the staff encourages independence and self-esteem. They support social skills and emotional intelligence, while encouraging the joy of life.
Asked again about her own contributions, Eileen deflects the conversation to people like John Chacho. A retired physical education instructor, he’s “magical,” Eileen says.
“He’s an amazing person. He’s exactly who you want to be around your kids.”
In her own way, Eileen Ward is amazing too.
“This is a great life,” she says. “I laugh every day. After 30 years, I’m still having fun.
“We all are.”